He sits down across from me, a solid man with a kind face and a gentle smile. His words are thoughtful and he takes his time in answering. It is clear that Gene Daunno is right where he is supposed to be. His volunteering with Family Promise is a calling.
Gene hasn’t always lived in Chester County. He grew up in New Jersey, just one town over from the birthplace of Family Promise! As Gene says, there’s more to that than coincidence, and there does seem to be something to that thought. Gene has been with Family Promise since its Chester County birth, but one could argue that his commitment to the mission of Family Promise began long before it began in the county. Since their move to Kennett Square nearly two decades ago to be near his wife’s family, Gene and his wife have dug into the community. By Gene’s estimation, in their 18 years of marriage and blended family, they have been empty nesters for only about 6 months of that time. They have had a steady stream of family and friends who have needed a place to live and have found a home with the Daunno’s. Gene admits that their house is way too big for just the two of them, but they keep it. In Gene’s words, “We never know what the next need might be.”
How did you get connected with Family Promise? What drew you to volunteering?
In February of 2015, I heard about the organization through a presentation at a different church. A few months later, there was an announcement about Family Promise on a Sunday morning at Willowdale Chapel. At that first informational meeting, I felt that twinge. The statistics caught my heart — 492 children in Chester County homeless? I recognized the fear and despair that comes with losing a home. I almost lost my home twice. If I could help keep that feeling away by making people feel comfortable and appreciated even in the midst of the circumstances, I wanted to do it.
Tell me what you do with Family Promise.
I started by helping with operations during Willowdale’s turn in the rotation. I’d be there to direct the setting up and tearing down of the sleeping and living quarters. I stayed and ate dinner with the guests, and generally just made myself available as a listener. Still, this didn’t feel like enough, and as a surgery had forced me to retire, I had the time. I started working in the Resource Center. As the word got out about Family Promise, donations began to pour in, but there wasn’t really anywhere to put things. I sorted and organized donations of clothes and household goods and directed volunteers in the washing of items and the setting up of a store-like experience. As program participants found new housing, they could come in and “shop” for what they needed to set up house again. Because I volunteer at the resource center and at Willowdale when we have guests, I get to be a familiar, friendly face, and I enjoy that. I also really enjoy continuing to be a part of the brainstorming to continue to make the program stronger.
Can you tell me one story that just sums up why you continue to give your time and energy to Family Promise? Why will you keep volunteering this year?
There are several reasons. I’ll keep doing this mainly because I keep seeing families get into apartments. I like knowing that Family Promise follows them for a year. If the families stay in the program, they will do okay. It’s good to see that they are doing well as they move through the year.
One story that sticks out to me is this. One night, one of the women in the program wanted to talk. She sat down with me because she knew me from the Resource Center. She was having some issues with her children’s father and wasn’t sure what to do. Several volunteers, including our pastor, engaged in some meaningful conversations with her. Within days, she had made some significant choices and changes in her life and had found a new place to live. That was pretty amazing.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like the readers to know?
We are here to serve, and it’s not work when you are doing something, giving something. I give because I can, and there are times when I can’t and I still want to give. You get a good feeling inside when you are able to give to those who are less fortunate, keeping in mind that you may be only one paycheck away from being that person who is less fortunate.
There has not been one person who I’ve met who has volunteered who has said, “I’m really sorry I volunteered.” When I see my wife here on her volunteer nights and she’s holding babies and watching the kids just play happily (a lot of the kids have no idea what their situation really is), it’s good to know that tonight they have a safe and warm place to lay their heads. It’s good to be involved… here in our community.
Fun Facts about Gene
You are standing in the junk food aisle. Do you pick sweet or salty?
Sweet. Definitely, sweet.
You have a free hour. Do you pick up a book, binge on Netflix or something else entirely?
To shut off my brain, my wife and I sit in front of the TV. We have a lot going on, and shutting down for a bit is a good thing.
If you could have any super power, what would it be?
I’d like to read minds, in particular my wife’s. Actually, maybe that super power wouldn’t be such a good thing. Maybe if I could turn it off now and then.